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Virginia police officer fired after pepper-spraying, use of force when pulling over Black military officer

Virginia State Police are conducting their own investigation of the incident, and two Windsor police officers have been sued

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In this image made from Windsor, (Va.) Police video, A police officer uses a spray agent on Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor, Va.

In this image made from police video, a police officer uses a spray agent on Caron Nazario on Dec. 20, 2020, in Windsor, Va.

Windsor Police via AP

One of two Virginia police officers involved in a December 2020 traffic stop of a Black U.S. Army officer has been fired, while the incident remains under investigation by state police officials.

A video of the December traffic stop — which shows Army 2nd. Lt. Caron Nazario in uniform, being pepper-sprayed, forcefully removed from his vehicle and put to the ground — went viral last week.

Nazario has sued the two officers, “alleging violations of his constitutional rights under the Fourth and First Amendments,” Vice reported.

What happened?

During a Dec. 5, 2020, traffic stop, two Windsor Police Department officers — Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker — “threaten Nazario, pepper-spray him in the face, and knee-strike him in the legs, according to body camera footage, Nazario’s cellphone video, and legal filings,” Vice reported on Friday.

  • “A video, which went viral last week and has been viewed more than 11 million times, shows two officers immediately drawing their guns and pointing them at Caron Nazario — who is Black and Latino and was in uniform — as he sat in his SUV after being pulled over,” The Virginian-Pilot reported.
  • Officers accused Nazario of “eluding police” and began a “felony traffic stop” because Nazario drove to a nearby, well-lit gas station before pulling over, according to Vice.
  • A temporary plate of the new-to-Nazario SUV was taped inside the rear window and is visible on body camera footage, reported Vice.
  • “Gutierrez acknowledged that Nazario’s decision to drive to a lighted area happens to him ‘a lot, and 80% of the time, it’s a minority,’” Nazario’s attorney Jonathan Arthur said, quoting the now-fired police officer, The Associated Press reported.
  • According to video of the traffic stop, Nazario is seen holding his hands outside the window of a black SUV at a gas station, and tells the officers “I’m honestly afraid to get out,” the AP reported. “Yeah, you should be,” a police officers responds.
  • “The officers allegedly told Nazario if he were to complain, they’d charge him with crimes like obstruction, eluding, and assault on a law enforcement officer — potentially destroying his military career,” according to Vice.

On Sunday — more than four months after the incident and 48 hours after Vice’s story was published — the Windsor Police Department announced in a statement that Gutierrez had been fired, that department policy had not been used during the traffic stop and that departmentwide retraining had been going on since January.

  • “The Town of Windsor has remained transparent about this event since the initial stop, and has openly provided documents and related video to attorneys for Lt. Nazario,” the statement said.
  • Windsor’s statement doesn’t say when Gutierrez was officially terminated.
  • As of Wednesday, April 7, “officers Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker ... were still employed by the police department” Windsor town manager William G. Sauders told The Virginian-Pilot.

State officials react

In a statement Sunday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that state police would be conducting an independent investigation of the incident.

  • “Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure that Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Northam said in the statement.
  • The governor also said he would extending an invitation to Nazario for a meeting.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said “incidents like this are unacceptable,” in a Twitter post Saturday.

  • “As our office continues to monitor the situation, the Windsor Police Department needs to be fully transparent about what happened during the stop and what was done in response to it,” the attorney general added.